Arenas: 'I Think We'll Be a Lot Better'

Gilbert Arenas, from left, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Jarvis Hayes model the Wizards' alternate uniforms, which they will wear 15 times this season.
Gilbert Arenas, from left, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, Jarvis Hayes model the Wizards' alternate uniforms, which they will wear 15 times this season. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 20, 2006

The Washington Wizards have made it clear that they want to play better defense, and so far this preseason much of the team's attention has been focused on concepts like rotating to the open man and protecting the rim.

However, a team that ranked third in the NBA in scoring (101.7 points per game) last season also believes that it can become even better offensively.

Gilbert Arenas, who averaged a team-high 29.4 points per game last season, thinks the addition of DeShawn Stevenson, the return of Jarvis Hayes and a deeper bench will make the Wizards even more dangerous.

"I think we'll be a lot better," said Arenas. "Number one, DeShawn can score better than Jared [Jeffries] did, so that puts another scorer in the lineup. And then you have Jarvis coming off the bench and he can score. You have Roger Mason coming off the bench and he can shoot the ball. When Darius [Songaila] gets back, that will give us a big guy who can step out and shoot. We can be a flat-out scoring team, starters and guys off the bench."

Potent offense -- one built primarily around the talents of Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler -- bailed the Wizards out night after night last season. With a rotation that was thinned by Hayes's season-ending knee injury and the mid-season departure of guard Chucky Atkins, the Wizards needed those three to carry the load.

This season, Coach Eddie Jordan believes that a deeper rotation combined with a better defensive approach -- one that will include less full-court pressure and less gambling for steals -- can lead to a better offensive attack.

Butler and Antonio Daniels will be in their second seasons in Jordan's offense. Jamison is determined to avoid the kind of shooting slump he endured early last season, and the bench will potentially include three players (Hayes, Songaila and Daniels) who have averaged near double-digit points during their careers.

The word Jordan most often uses when discussing his ideal offense is "efficient," and Arenas said he's more concerned with point differential than scoring average. Last season, the Wizards outscored opponents by an average of 1.9 points per game and were 10-18 in games decided by six points or less.

"We're going to be up around 103, 104 points every game," Arenas said. "We just don't want people putting up 103 on us. We have to keep them in the 90s."

Jordan wants his team to push the ball in transition without turning it over, he doesn't like players taking quick jump shots when teammates are not in offensive rebounding position and he wants to see the ball move crisply rather than stagnate in the hands of one player.

"I would like to see us be more efficient offensively and I think we will be," Jordan said. "I think Antawn had a real tough two-and-a-half months [last season]. He'll be better from the beginning. . . . Caron and A.D. [Daniels] will be more comfortable. When you look at those factors, we should be more efficient."

The team's most potent offensive weapon will continue to be Arenas, who has increased his scoring output in each of the last four seasons. Arenas feels he can become even better by attacking defenses more and relying on his jump shot less. Arenas shot 44.7 percent from the field last season and 36.9 percent from three-point range.

He ranked second in the NBA in three-pointers made (199) but said that he too often "settled" for the long-range shot instead of taking his man off the dribble.

"I'm not going to settle for those shots this year," said Arenas, who penetrated enough to earn 799 free throw attempts last season. "I'm going to be in attack mode and I'm going to stay in attack mode. Fewer threes. I'm just going to go after that rim."

New Look

Last evening during a party for season ticket holders at Verizon Center, the Wizards unveiled new, alternate uniforms: black shorts and gold jerseys with white piping and a set of stars. They will make their debut Nov. 18 in a home game against Cleveland and will be worn a total of 15 times this season.

"I like anything that's not turquoise or blue or whatever color that is," Arenas said, referring to the team's current road uniforms. "I want to go back to the red, white and blue colors. We're Washington, D.C. The flag. America's colors. That's what we should be."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company